When someone says that a name, a word, or an idea is on the tip of their tongue, what they mean is that they have entered that strange space between memory and forgetting. They know precisely what they wish to say, can sense and feel the knowledge all through their body, but for some reason, they are left drawing a blank. To be asked what it means to be Southern is to be asked to enter that liminal space. We know instinctively what it means—or perhaps what it is not—and yet we sometimes struggle to parse out its boundaries. As Southerners, we recognize that we occupy deeply contested space, geographically and culturally. The things that make us Southern are sometimes the same things that make us not. We contend with dueling forces, an external gaze that would render us static, frozen in time, while we are also pulled by the ever-flowing, ever-evolving waves of time. We are our past, but we are also our future. To be Southern is to be all of these things.
But the story of the South is not just a story of a region. It is the story of a nation, of a people who came from many nations, who journeyed down different roads to arrive here, in this place, this time. We have gathered here in this special SEUSA issue some stories and works, from the many we received from Southerners living in the South and around the world, that speak to some of these experiences, our shared triumphs and traumas as Southerners.
These stories ask the question, “what does it mean to be Southern?” in a time and place when cultural markers like language, culinary distinctions, and art often travel beyond their borders to be claimed and renamed by the larger mainstream. These stories ask questions and answer them in ways that ignited our imaginations, pulled us into their storytelling, and made us forget sometimes that we were reading fictional works on the page. What they share in common is what Southerners share in common—an emphasis on history, music, food, language, and the land, always the land itself. After all, the land is what unites and divides us.
And if the South is a contested body of work, of historical and cultural contributions to America, then Mississippi is its memory, some might say its heart. All roads seem to lead there, and in Inda Lauryn’s “Venus Witch’s Ring,” the crossroads are just the beginning.
As Southerners we are often praised and maligned for our accents. We are teased and ridiculed for the language and sounds that come out of our mouths, and chastised for the food we put in them. Whether it is the Southern “drawl,” recognizable no matter what the ethnic or cultural background is, or the basic staples of our comfort food, we are derided and celebrated all at once.
It is with humor and grace that Eden Royce offers readers a tantalizing taste of South Carolinian Gullah Geechee culture and its delicious, magical cuisine in “Every Good-bye Ain’t Gone.”
Christopher Alonso’s heartbreaking “Strange Mercy” reminds us of the South’s strong and long geographical reach, and Troy L. Wiggins’s devastating “Dying Lessons” is a reminder that the past is not always simply past. Both stories examine the bonds of family—chosen family and biological families. And whether bonded by choice or by blood, part of what makes the South special is its approach to food, faith, and family. These cultural threads are intertwined. They are the ties that bind us. In these stories the families are united by their shared love and their shared trauma. How they choose to face the incomprehensible is what makes the storytelling both beautifully chilling and moving.
Every inch of land in our country has a hard history—places of theft and plunder, places of war and bloodshed. The specter of freedom, how it is defined and who might claim it, is a relentless haint that has haunted the South for centuries. We are constantly redefining what it means to be “free” and who gets to experience it. Malena Crawford’s “The People Who Sleep Beneath the Waves” takes us to the very depths of history, into the ocean itself, in a story that explores the Middle Passage and its mark on those who were witnesses. Christopher Caldwell’s “Hide Me in the Shadow of Your Wings” takes flight and goes beyond the Middle Passage to show us the struggle to make a life within the chains that was the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. What he has to tell us about honoring your true self and finding a home in love, is a poignant reminder that the will to live and thrive is present in all people.
“The South got something to say,” Andre 3000 of OutKast said over two decades ago. It is a sentiment that still rings true. We hope you enjoy these stories, poems, and other non-fiction works, as they have much to tell. Together they are a tribute to the richness and depth of the Southeastern region, and a testament that this is a demographic that has much to contribute to the speculative fiction field.